New homes in Israel: Making sense of the builder’s plans

The builder (‘kablan’) is showing me plans of new homes in Israel that I’m considering buying. The plans look great.  But does that mean that this home is right for me? The location is good; the price is within budget, and from what I can understand of his color brochure, the layout is practical.  It looks like this could be the one.

The builder produces his marketing materials to make the home look as attractive as possible. So, before you proceed with purchasing this property, you have to take one step back, breathe a deep breath, and ask yourself a few important questions.

What to consider

  • How accurately does the plan represent the home that I will actually be living in?
  • What factors do I need to take into account to determine if this is right for me?
  • What questions do I need to ask the builder before I sign the contract and how can I intelligently interpret his answers?

Let’s go through the steps logically. First of all, after you look at the colored brochure, ask the builder to give you an actual floor plan of the home. You may say “but the brochure already includes a floor plan.”   The floor plan included in the marketing brochure usually includes illustrations of furniture which, while they are not intentionally out of proportion for the purposes of deception, restrict our ability to imagine our own furniture and our own personal needs in the space.  This floor plan may also be subject to change.

Most reputable builders will be willing, at this stage, to give you an actual black and white floor plan of the home at a scale of 1.100. In most cases, this plan will ultimately be attached to the contract and will form an integral, legal part of your agreement with the builder.

Think “real space”

Many buyers say that they can’t understand plans or that they don’t think metrically—they can only think in inches and feet. It’s irrelevant as to what measuring system you are used to.  A helpful method of understanding the space as illustrated on floor plans is to translate it to actual space that you are familiar with in the home that you are currently living in. If they are indicating a bedroom of 270 x 350 cm, (and, again, it’s irrelevant what this means in inches and feet if you use this method) just take a tape measure and compare these numbers to a bedroom in your current home. To paraphrase Goldilocks, “too big, too small, or just right?”

In general, you will find that even a luxury home in Israel is somewhat smaller than many modest homes in North America and in Western Europe. It is at this point that most people, if they are realistic about their expectations, begin to understand that it isn’t worth trying to replicate the typical American master bedroom with a triple dresser, chest on chest, armoire, and walk in closet with room left over for an EZ Boy recliner in front of the TV plus a treadmill!

The bottom line is that in most Israeli homes, space is critical and correct space planning calls for being open to solutions that respect the space without compromising on your needs. Once you have analyzed the plans and feel that you can live with the proposed space, you will begin to think about what changes you can make to the builder’s original plans so as to fine tune the home to your needs.

Making changes to the original plans

The first thing to understand is what can and cannot be changed. The builder has been authorized by the city council to build the house as it looks like from the outside. That means that once the plans have been approved by the city, it is unlikely that you will be able to change what the outside of the house looks like—primarily locations of and sizes of exterior doors and windows.

However, the degree of flexibility of this point varies from city to city and it is recommended to ask your Israeli real estate lawyer or long time residents of the area if and what changes can be made.

It is possible that if you ask the builder to make these changes before construction has begun, depending on the scope of the changes, they can sometimes be made. You also have to be aware of the differences between buying a house or apartment being built as part of a large project, or building your own home on your own plot of land with your own architect.

Now that we’re clear on what changes can or cannot be made to the outside of the house, there are basically three elements on the inside of the house that cannot be changed:

  1. Homes in Israel are generally built of cinder block with reinforced concrete support columns and beams. Unless you’re willing to re-engineer the support systems of the house, you generally have to take these columns and beams as a given.  Consider also that the location and dimensions of the staircase falls into this category.
  2. The Mamad or sealed room is also an absolute (again—unless you’re able or willing to re-engineer the house).
  3. Locations of main sewage lines are usually determined at very early stages of the design process so if you want to move a toilet to a location nowhere near its location on the builder’s proposed plan that may be a problem.

Once you’ve established what can and cannot be changed, you should begin to focus on optimal placement of interior walls. Look at each room in the home individually and try to envision the fulfillment of your wish list for that room, even if it means reducing the size of adjacent rooms. Then move on to the next room and you will see what compromises you have to make in terms of furniture placement, functions, etc. Once you understand the proportions of each space, and you’ve worked on optimal furniture and appliance placement, you’re on your way.   If you do end up buying the home, make sure that you clarify exactly what charges these changes will incur.

Choosing and planning new homes in Israel can be a rewarding process if approached logically and realistically. But as always, be sure you know the rules before you play the game.

Zev Shalev ז”ל contributed to this article.

The contents of this article are designed to provide the reader with general information and not to serve as legal or other professional advice for a particular transaction. Readers are advised to obtain advice from qualified professionals before entering into any transaction.

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